Monday, November 23, 2015

To Williamsburg and Back Again

One of the highlights of my work year is the sophomore trip. Every year, we venture off to somewhere out of state to see schools in a different context and to soak up some culture. This year, the students chose Williamsburg and we spent Thursday through Saturday soaking up the history. I think I learned more in those days than in my entire formal schooling about colonial history.

We explored Jamestowne and learned about the Powhatan Indians and the fort there. We even were able to go aboard a replica of one the ships that landed there. We took a lantern tour of Williamsburg to learn about trades, and we ate in a tavern by candlelight, listening to tavern entertainments. We toured two incredible schools, and we kayaked down Powhatan Creek, learning about the ecosystem and spotting herons, muskrats, fish, vultures, ducks, and bald eagles.

The entire weekend was so memorable, and I'm always grateful for the time away from campus to get to know my students. It certainly was a few days well spent!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The First Gifts of Christmas

This is about the point in November when Christmas starts to sneak in. Issa's favorite radio station has switched to all Christmas all the time. Lights are starting to appear around us; the Christmas house is fully decorated. And yesterday we did our first gifts of Christmas.

Since Issa was in first grade, our first gifts are always for the Angel Tree at school. Tuesday, the kids were so excited to choose their ornaments. Evan chose a bow and arrow toy for a boy his age. Issa chose skinny jeans for a girl her age. I chose two of the socks and underwear ornaments for Brad and I--both for kids our kids' ages; they just seemed like good Mom and Dad choices. We chose the gifts yesterday, and Issa and I wrapped them up last night while Frosty played on the television.

We use the Angel Tree to have a conversation about gratitude. About how blessed we are, and how since we have a little extra we choose ornaments. We talk about those who need are the bravest as they ask for help. And we talk about how for those who have just enough it's a time to remember how blessed they are and to see a little extra good in the world. And that's the real first gift.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Good Problems

My students organized a canned food drive for one of the schools we work with routinely. It was a blitz drive to meet a high need before Thanksgiving. I was worried about the short window and the fact that we're asking college kids to dig deep at the end of the semester. They did all of the work, the emailing, the reminding. I sat back and watched.

I just spent the morning breaking up the huge boxes that were full into littler boxes I can hope to move. In just two weeks, these girls collected six paper cases totaling over 150 pieces of food for these families. I couldn't be more proud.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Good Kids

Last night was one of those nights when I was poignantly reminded that I have good kids and that maybe we are doing something right in this parenting gig--which is especially good since this morning was not stellar. (Cue me blurting, "Just shove some turkey in your mouth and stop irritating each other!" And yes...I fed the kids turkey, yeast rolls, and cranberry ice for breakfast. It's what they wanted and I had no good reason to say no.)

But I digress...last night...

Last night was crazy. Issa had dance, I had a school improvement team meeting, and Evan was rescued from hanging out in the back of the meeting by a friend who invited him over. That meant that by the time I finished my meeting and gathered the children we walked through the door about 6:45. Evan had already eaten, and left-overs were in Issa and I's future. As I started warming up dinner, Issa made her brother a cup of hot cocoa, and then it happened. They both sat down at the kitchen table. I expected Issa to, but since Evan had eaten with a friend I fully expected him to go play. But he didn't. He sat. I asked what he was doing, and his response made me tear up: "It's dinner time. I want to hear about everybody's days." Be still my heart. He sipped his cocoa while we ate, and needless to say that moment was the highlight of my day when it was my turn to share.

I'm always grateful for those moments that make me feel like we're doing something right. So much of parenting is building the plane while you're flying it, but maybe that lack of a master plan is working out just fine.

Monday, November 16, 2015


 This weekend, we celebrated our North Carolina Thanksgiving. The kids and I started cooking Friday, and for the first time our meal included cranberry ice, which is a hallmark of our family holidays in Napoleon. Mom sent me the recipe, complete with her one note, and then I spent most of the evening texting back and forth about everything that is not actually in the recipe:
 We were so fortunate to be able to start with cranberries from the Produce Box:
But the recipe should really mention that they explode rather than pop. Evan found the cranberries shooting across the kitchen hysterical. Next time we will use a larger pot! My heart melted when I explained that Grandma Luzny used to make this, and now Nana makes it, and now I'm learning to make it, and Issa announced, "And someday I'll make it!" Yes, love, you will.

Saturday morning, the kids and I headed to the farm. It was the last open day of the season, and we spent the morning caring for chicks (which delighted the kiddos), rounding up loose livestock, taking down some shade tents, and planting garlic and cover crops. We stayed nearly an hour later than usual, but it was such a perfect morning on the farm we didn't mind. Even corralling steers was fun, although I have an ugly bruise on my hip from Big Red who was being stubborn and head butted me. We came home with loads of sweet potatoes--some of which we mashed for the feast--and two butterkin pumpkins. Coupled with the two I ordered from the Produce Box, that gave us a total of four pumpkins to roast and puree:
Thankfully it freezes beautifully. Once we started making our own last year, though, canned pumpkin just won't do.

We also prepped the turkey Saturday night. I have become a huge fan of dry brining, which means the turkey sits in the roaster in our refrigerator over night. Evan spent most of the evening and following morning opening the refrigerator and remarking, "Boy, that sure is one big chicken." That kid sure know hows to get under his sister's skin; every time she would shout, "IT IS A TURKEY! And it is very big." I always buy a bird that is too big for the occasion, and as I was trying to justify it this year as having to account for the bones Brad pointed out bird bones are hollow. We have left-overs.

Sunday morning, the preparations were in full swing. We started by making the pumpkin pie, and then we made Mama Fisher's yeast rolls. Her recipe really is the best, and every time I make them I see her standing in her kitchen mixing the flour in by hand when Tay and I would go to her house to escape campus. Mama Fish, I use a mixer; I'm sorry. They are still delicious. 

I got the stock going for gravy, and then it was all crafting hands on deck. Issa had checked out a Thanksgiving craft book at the library, and we replaced our very ordinary bread basket with this beauty:
It was so fun crafting with her!

We used the good china and genuinely enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal. We will be eating leftovers all week, and I'm making some deliveries to friends today. All of the preparation is so worth it, though. I love being in the kitchen with the kiddos, and I love that we extend the gratitude a bit by celebrating here, too. After all, we have so very much to be grateful for.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


So...welcome home to me. Just as Issa and I were walking into school yesterday, she got sick. She spent the next two hours being violently ill, and the rest of the day nibbling and sleeping. She is home again today just because she has zero energy, so we will spend the day nibbling and sipping and I'm sure she will be well tomorrow. Unfortunately, I seem to be starting in with it this morning.

The beauty is, however, I have incredible students. Yesterday, we had committee meetings. I was frantically texting and emailing so they could continue without me, and my leadership team demonstrated that they really don't need me. They ran the meetings, sent me updates, and remembered a couple of things I forgot. They are awesome. Several texted throughout the day to check on Issa.

This morning, I emailed to cancel my class. I've already had to offers two bring me soup or come watch the kids. I've declined, but I mean really. How awesome is that?

Monday, November 9, 2015

All That Glitters

For the first time in our adult lives, Mom, Shannon, and I met up for a girls' weekend! We all converged in Chicago, which was the perfect time to see Shannon's new home.

Mom and I both had rough landings and cab rides (note to self: never land during rush hour), so we ditched our dinner reservation and settled into Shannon's place for Chicago deep dish. It was a great way to start the rest of our very glittery weekend.

After a lovely breakfast at the hotel, we went to a studio to try our hand at glass blowing:
 We each made a bowl, and it was honestly one of the coolest things I have ever done. Our artist made us feel like we totally did it ourselves, which demonstrates his skill way more than ours!

We had brunch at a really cute non-profit that provides job training and placements for some of the homeless in Chicago. The food was incredible, and it was nice to support a great cause in the process.

From there, we explored the conservatory, which was also hosting a glass exhibit:
 And we managed to snag a selfie:
We spent the rest of the day exploring Eataly, enjoying some girl time, and then having an incredible Peruvian dinner. Sunday, we had another fun brunch and then curled up by the fireplace for a little more girl talk before I had to head home.

It was the perfect mix of doing and being, and it was so good to have a little grown-up time with two of my favorite people.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

There Is a Rat

So...Buddy appeared on Halloween morning riding a very pitiful furry rat--you know the kind you might see on clearance for about $1.

That rat is bringing raucous laughter to our home. Buddy clearly forgot that I don't like rats--like not at all. My children, however, remember. And once Buddy left and left the rat behind to add to the Halloween decor, the rat has been highly mobile. It showed up in my knitting basket and I want all the mom points in the world for only screaming and not saying the words that were running through my head. Evan's laughter at that moment: priceless. The rat has appeared next to breakfast plates, in the library basket, under my pillow, and is currently hiding in Evan's candy basket. I'm hoping he screams...or at least laughs hysterically again.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Family Dinners

I spend a lot of time--maybe too much time--thinking about my children's story books. Not the ones on our shelves. The ones they will replay in their minds and for their own children someday. The story of their childhoods. It's why traditions and celebrations are so important to me.

Last night, though, I was reminded of all of the pages that blend together into very important pages--like a page about family dinners. So far, we have been very lucky that we all sit down to dinner together. Sometimes we don't eat until 7:30 and the kids are already in pajamas, but we sit around a table and talk. Some days the conversation is heavy--friendships, giving back, questions without answers. Most nights, though, conversation is pretty ordinary. The best and worsts of the days. Funny things friends said. Plans for the weekend.

Last night, we all sat down around the table for pancakes. Nothing fancy. I know we were laughing, but I can't remember about what. And when I asked what the best part of everyone's day was, it was unanimously that moment. Eating dinner together.

Sometimes, it's good to be reminded that the ordinary is anything but ordinary. Maybe it's in those every day moments that the true magic of family happens, and that is definitely worth a page in the storybook.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Happy Halloween!

 Well...our Halloween basically broke every tradition we have, but it was fun in a completely new way.

The only thing I'm not completely over is that we did not carve pumpkins. We picked out pumpkins in the mountains, and they are beautifully sitting on the porch. The kids just had zero carving interest. Issa announced she likes the way they look whole, and I'm almost okay with it. Almost.

I also did not make the traditional pre-trick-or-treat potato soup. The neighborhood decided to do a group pizza party instead. I did manage to snap a few pictures on the way. Meet Maleficent:
 And an army ninja (also known as Mr. Griffen from the dojo):
 They were too excited to go to get a picture together, and frankly it took a threat of not going at all to get that one of Evan. And who can blame them:
 Look at all those cute kiddos:
I did manage to take one horrible picture of them together:
It made me very grateful for this one of the night the costumes arrived:
 Please note Evan's mask never made it out the front door.

We did have a lot of fun with the neighbors, and trick-or-treat never disappoints. I'm estimating I saw about 600 kiddos. The highlight of my evening, though, was watching the toddler puppy dance and giggle on my sidewalk over our light-up eyes in the bushes. It was awesome.

We did have the traditional post candy sort, hot cocoa, and Charlie Brown, so not all tradition was lost. And by all accounts it was another treat of a Halloween.